Thursday, December 13, 2012

Taft Hill Farm: Part 1

Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
Taft Hill farm house
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
A hilltop view worth sweet coin-operated binoculars
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
The barn
     Ten o'clock Sunday morning found us pulling into the driveway of Taft Hill Farm in West Townshend, VT. Robert welcomed us to their farm and introduced us to his wife, Kathy, to Jamie and Dan, their season-long WWOOFers, and Alex, a weekend volunteer. After a brief overview of the operations and expectations, we dove into our first day of work. Randy set off with Robert and Dan to pick up a woodstove for the WWOOFer apartment, while Holly, Jamie, and Alex worked on cleaning out some of the chicken coops.
There are seven different poultry coops on the farm, which are necessary for Taft Hill's chicken breeding program. All chickens are descended from some combination of the red junglefowl, green junglefowl, and grey junglefowl of Southeast Asia. Taft Hill has been creating New Heritage breeds by going back to these feral ancestors of modern chickens with the intention of breeding a more intelligent, hardier bird. After we finished with the coops, Randy, Robert, and Dan returned with the new stove. Before we could begin finagling the 400 lb stove up the narrow stairs, a horse trailer arrived from Tregellys Fiber Farm in Hawley MA to pick up a llama named Critter. Critter was an ornery critter, and Tregellys had agreed to take him off Robert and Kathy's hands. We barely knew the llama, but Dan and Jamie seemed as though they would miss his familiar face, even though it had attempted to bite them. Two interns on a neighboring farm, Brian and Naz, showed up to help with the llama relocation, and were soon roped into helping move the colossal stove. Jamie and Dan were excited for the new stove; apparently we had missed some chilly evenings in the apartment (though our previous evenings in the yurt were probably colder).
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
The epic WWOOFer apartment
We were also glad to have the new stove, and were luxuriating in the fully furnished WWOOFer apartment where we had our own bedroom, a lovely common area with couches and skylights, and a full kitchen. Once the stove was in place, it was time for lunch. On the weekends Kathy always made a delicious lunch for the crew, and today it was a hearty vegetable soup. Kathy and Robert's son Luc joined us for lunch. After work Randy accompanied Robert to check on his new Randall Lineback heifer, who was staying at Meadow's Bee Farm, where Brian and Naz were working.
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
The legendary Randall Lineback heifer
Randall Linebacks are a rare heritage breed, one of the few remaining all-purpose cattle breeds, good for milk, meat, and draft. Jonny and Shelley at Coggeshall Farm Museum had mentioned that they would love to have this versatile breed, although the rarity and cost were prohibitive. Robert is hoping to ultimately build up his own small herd of Randalls on his farm, and he is starting with this heifer. The heifer was not used to interacting with humans, and there was to be much debate over the upcoming weeks on how best to integrate her into a working dairy.
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
Bandaging baby emu
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
Malachite in the barn aviary
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT     Over the next few days we got to know the Taft Hill animals a bit better. There are four rather skittish mineature horses (one of the more useless farm animals), two mineature donkeys (also without a clear purpose), and four emus with one surviving emu chick. The emus resembled Jim Henson creations with slightly less personality. "Baby emu" as he was called, had gotten a nasty cut about a week before we arrived, and every other day we had to clean his wound and change the bandage. He was not a fan of this procedure, and it often resulted in the person who had to hold him getting pooped or puked on. In addition to the emus, there were five sheep and one elderly llama, Lamorna, who was over 100 in llama years. A favorite morning activity was watching her eagerly scarf down any offered banana peels. There was also one peacock named Malachite, who used to have a few peahens, but they were killed by predators. Other poultry included a pair of Muscovey ducks with 8 ducklings, and about 100 chickens. As with every large flock of chickens, a few personalities stood out and deserved naming; these names included Gandalf and Lord Wellington. With so many chickens integral to the breeding program, any ill chicken was given special treatment, which included seclusion and daily vitamin C and garlic supplements.
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
     The next few days were spent gathering fallen leaves for chicken and sheep bedding, and mulching and putting the garden to bed. Any herbs or seeds that remained in the garden we collected to dry for use or replanting next year. On Tuesday we were all sitting around after dinner discussing the upcoming Harvest Festival when all the windows in the house rattled for a few seconds. We found it odd, but didn't really think about it. Then Luc looked it up online, and we had just felt a 4.0 earthquake that originated in Maine. There have been a lot of firsts on this trip, and this was the first time either of us had felt an earthquake. That was also the first night we had to put the close the animals up for the evening by ourselves. The chickens were easy, but the sheep, being skittish, were a bit tricky. You had to shake food at them so they would come into their stall, and then get past them to close the door without scaring them out. It took us a while to realize the matriarch was especially nervous around new men. Four tries and about an hour later, we discovered that if Holly shook the food inside, and Randy hid around the side of the barn, then once they were all in Holly could give the signal for Randy to sneak down and close the outside door.
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
Three of the sheep
Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
Collecting (and eating) more apples
     Thursday we had our second opportunity to gather apple drops at a nearby orchard to press for cider at the Harvest Festival. It was Jamie, Dan, and ourselves in the pickup truck, with Jamie's parents following us (they were visiting from Texas and wanted to join in this traditional New England autumn activity). Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VTAfter taking more than one wrong turn, and making our way up a mountain on a winding, three-season dirt road, we arrived at the orchard. Green Mountain Orchards charges non-profits $40 for a truckload of drops, and with the sheer quantity of apples on the ground, we were able to fill the pickup in about an hour. Although we were surrounded by countless apples, we weren't quite as excited to eat our fill since we were still recovering from the last apple-cidering binge, but we did anyway. The ride home was even more exciting as Dan fought to control a squirrelly pickup overfilled with apples as it careened down the mountain. The smell of our burning breaks was thick around us when we finally made it to the valley.

Taft Hill Farm WWOOF USA West Townshend, VT
West Townshend Country Store
     That night we were able to utilize our recently acquired pizza-making skills. Taft Hill Farm also had a cobb pizza oven, but theirs was down the hill next to the West Townshend Country Store. Robert and Kathy have been quite active in their community effort to save the West Townshend Post Office, which was faced with closure. Everyone came together to fight this, and now the community non-profit rents the space for $5 a month from a generous benefactor. The community also runs a thrift store above the post office, and is in the process of figuring out what they want the remaining space to look like. The pizza oven brings a festive spirit to this community space, and all of the proceeds from the pizza go towards continuing to create and maintain this important town landmark. Although there is pizza every Friday night, on this Thursday the oven was fired up for an end-of-the-season farmer's market vendor meeting and dinner. Brian and Naz came down for pizza too, and after the meeting was over and everything was cleaned up we went back to Meadow's Bee farm to hang out. We had a few beers, and they introduced us to two of their favorite pasttimes; hatchet throwing and the game Stump. To set up a game of Stump, the stump used as the hatchet throwing target was placed face-up, and every player chooses their nail, and hammers it barely into the stump. The goal was to hammer down everyone else's nail before yours is hammered in, but if your nail pops out (from not getting it started well enough), you loose. There's just one hammer, so you go in a circle, getting one chance to hammer one person's nail in. We held our own, but Brian or Naz usually won.
     In the middle of a game, we heard an odd screeching sound. At first we weren't sure what to make of it, but Brian ran and grabbed his .22, and told us to hop in the pickup. We went up to the chicken coop, and sure enough, a raccoon was in there getting his chicken dinner. Brian expertly dispatched the coon. Unfortunately the coon's intended meal also had to be put out of its misery due to intense neck trauma. Being the not-wasteful individuals that we are, we decided to process the chicken on the spot, illuminated by the pickup truck headlights. We even skinned the coon so Brian could someday have a coonskin cap. While a big pot of water was coming to a boil for chicken-plucking, Holly and Naz successfully disrobed the raccoon. Holly was pleased to realize that skinning a raccoon is rather like skinning anything else, and everyone was impressed with her skills. Amidst our macabre endeavor and surrounded by strewn about gore, Leigh, the owner of the farm, pulled up. This was our first introduction to her, and the four of us must've looked like insomniac taxidermists. Luckily, she was impressed with our gutsy handling of the situation and we got off on the right foot. The incident finally wrapped up around 2 a.m., and we collapsed in a dead sleep, looking forward to Friday's pizza night.

1 comment:

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